The what and why of wishing

In his brief lecture on the power of the mind, Hazrat Inayat Khan tells us that our unhappiness in life is mostly a consequence of not knowing how to put our mind to its proper use. He says, “If this secret had been known by all, no person in this world would have been unhappy, no soul would have had a failure, for unhappiness and failure both are unnatural.” And in Gayan Chalas, he tells us there need be no limit to our aspiration : There is nothing on earth or in heaven which is not within the reach of man. When God is within his reach, what can be beyond it?

We might ask: if all is within our reach, and if failure is unnatural, why does it happen with such depressing frequency? Why don’t we have what we want? Why are we so often unhappy?

One part of the answer is that what looks like failure may be only a momentary appearance – a setback may be a stepping-stone to a greater success, as, for example, when a baby just learning to walk falls down. Each fall is not a failure but a part of the training that will soon enable the child not only to walk but to run.

Nevertheless, there are many whose lives seem chronically shrouded by clouds of frustration because of what Hazrat Inayat Khan calls indistinctness of motive. If we are uncertain about what we want, then like a ship without a compass, we will sail first in one direction and then in another, enduring storms and never coming into safe harbour. A symptom of this, quite common in the confusing years of adolescence, is a restless yearning without knowing what we long for. As we gather experience, and come to know something about ourselves, we may begin to understand more clearly what might fill the empty space and complete us. This recognition could be said to be the first step toward the fulfilment of our wishes.

The next step is to know why we want something – or in other words, what is the motive behind the desire. Obviously, this is fundamental, for if we succeed in getting what we have wished for and it does not satisfy the motive, then we have wasted an opportunity, and will have to live with the consequences.

But the real maturity of desire comes when we rise beyond our own point of view to something wider – when we take humble note of what it is appropriate to wish for, and what is best left to the Divine Will. This is a stage of ‘resignation’, a word that perplexes many people, for it seems like giving up our wishes. Yes, it is indeed the surrendering of our wishes, but the wise accept this gladly, for it is a very small price for a precious privilege: in this case, resignation means letting go of the small to be accorded intimacy with the Great.

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